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Vale May Barrie

7 February 2015

Today Stella has visited the beautiful property of May Barrie at Calderwood on the South Coast for a memorial held by her daughter and fellow artist, Tori de Mestre.

A tribute from SDFA to the late May Barrie:

We are very sorry to hear that eminent sculpture May Barrie has passed away at age 96. She will be sadly missed. Her contribution to Australian art is huge.

May Barrie was born in 1918 in Denmark, a coastal town in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. A quietly esteemed Australian treasure May Barrie lived in a romantic alliance with nature. Living and working on a beloved family property at Calderwood she achieved a synthesis of site and practice.

May Barrie studied under some of the most influential figures working in the 1950's during the Australian Modernist period including William Dobell, Edmund Harvey and, most influentially, her sculpture lecturer Lyndon Dadswell. Carving biomorphic forms out of found stones, marble and granites for more than 50 years, Barrie had sharpened an ability to draw out beautiful and sensual abstract forms from craggy rocks and intonate human relationships using reductive forms. She would find her natural materials from far afield in the hills of the Barossa Valley, South Australia. Angaston Gold and the white Angaston marble were favoured by her, so too was the dark green stone, Epidote.

Barrie had been attracted to abstract forms on her work since the early 1960s. Poise and fluidity are found in weighty monoliths and her work was informed by the feeling towards earthy materials that is inherent to a life spent communing with nature on a rural property. Her elegant and sophisticated stone carvings are equally at home in the long grass of a paddock outside of Wollongong as they are in the distilled space of a gallery.

May Barrie had exhibited her sculptures at Stella Downer Fine Art alongside her daughter and fellow artist Tori de Mestre. But sadly, Barrie had seldom shown her sculptures. In 1996 Wollongong City Gallery organised a long awaited retrospective exhibition of her work, an exhibition that overcame the feeling of ‘neglect' of this outstanding artist. But as John McDonald wrote ‘if she has remained a marginal figure it is as much by choice as neglect'. Nevertheless Barrie had an enduring presence in the Australian art scene and has been collected avidly for many decades. In 2009 she was awarded the major Balnaves Foundation Prize for her work in Sculpture by the Sea.

Barrie worked every day well into the later years of her life in her open-air studio, carving and chipping away and polishing her beautiful rocks, marbles, granites and sandstones.

Stella Downer Fine Art would like to offer our condolences to May Barrie's loved ones and pay tribute her wonderful presence in this world.


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